I seem to have the same conversation every time I come across a former K.C. resident living elsewhere. It usually begins with me asking them when was the last time they were in Kansas City. If the answer is anything more than five years, our conversation usually devolves into me telling the story of the amazing transformation our city has gone through since the day they left.

As an architect, I take special care to talk about transformative buildings like the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the Sprint Center arena and Convention Center expansion. Each of these buildings is testament to the kind of progressive city we have become. Yet, for all their individual uniqueness, I take even more care in stating that the source of our city’s renaissance is greater than any single building.

It may be cliché to say that our downtown is greater than the sum of its parts. But if you think back to what it once was you would agree that a new Sprint Center, by itself, could not have created what we have now. We needed all those pieces; and they needed to be placed just the right way to accomplish the transformation.

Achieving this was no easy task. I remember when people would not move downtown because there was no grocery store nearby. At that time, critics like myself argued that a grocery store would never happen because there were just not enough customers living nearby. An impasse. Yet, Kansas City made it happen.

Some people call it “critical mass.” If you are trendy, you may call it “tipping point.” At work, I sometimes call it master planning. It is all the same idea: That no one thing by itself can create massive change. You need many pieces, all done in just the right order in just the right place. That is how we got to where we are. And now we are seeing the second wave of change approaching. We are dreaming bigger and planning smarter.  Plans for a new hotel, a new streetcar line, a new airport, a new downtown arts campus and new housing options are the next chapter of our city’s history.

You could still say that none of these projects, by itself, would make much of a difference to our city and you may be right. And, it may be difficult to see the effect to our city of having all of them. But if you had told me back when I moved downtown in 2001 what our city would be like in 2013, I would have called you crazy. You won’t see me making that mistake again.

I cannot wait to tell my expat friends of the cool new shops that opened to cater to Arts Campus students. Or of the boost that Google gave to high-tech conventions in coming to K.C. Or about how little I use my car since the streetcar line opened for business.

Those conversations will probably start taking a little longer then.

KC Studio

KC Studio covers the performing, visual, cinematic and literary arts, and the artists, organizations and patrons that make Kansas City a vibrant center for arts and culture.

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